February 21, 2012 10:36 pm

Striving for Excellence


“It is a sin to be good if God has called us to be Great.” —Thom Rainer, Breakout Churches

The first sentence in Thom Rainer’s Breakout Churches smacked me. Being good—and perhaps better than many—is certainly no justification for falling short of being great. Greatness is often sacrificed on the altar of goodness. After all, we are probably better off than some. By greatness I simply mean reaching our fullest potential, and this looks different for each of us. I have always been a loud proponent of excellence, although I often fall short. But I strive for excellence, and I feel it is my duty to challenge others to strive for excellence.

Excellence is a relentless pursuit of details. It is what makes musicians rehearse the same song over and over until they “gel.” It is what makes writers rewrite a sentence until they get the right rhythm. Excellence is often determined by what is not seen as much as by what is seen. An excellent musician does not play a wrong note. An excellent writer does not use an incorrect word. An excellent church does not have a sloppy program. An excellent leader does not forget the details.

Often leaders are appointed because of their zeal or burden for a certain ministry. But it doesn’t take long to realize that zeal and burden alone are insufficient to get things done. A leader soon discovers that detailed communication, building consensus, planning functions well in advance, coordinating resources, motivating volunteers, writing and enforcing policies, calculating budgets, managing conflicts, maintaining facilities, and countless other details either make or break a ministry endeavor. Impassioned speeches might rally the troops, but once the troops are on their feet, the leader needs a direction in which to lead them. This could begin with making sure the door is unlocked.

The following are ways we can do this:

  1. Set a high standard for yourself and your ministry. Do not settle for just “getting by.” Never “wing it.” For example, if you are a teacher, you should not pull out an old set of notes thirty minutes before your session and rush to class. Treat each ministry encounter as another opportunity to connect.
  2. Don’t make assumptions. Do not assume that people will do what you have not specifically asked them to do. Do not assume equipment and facilities will be available unless you have made specific arrangements. Ask the obvious questions for every aspect of your ministry events: who, when, where, how and why. Leave no question unanswered; make a check-list if necessary.
  3. Be passionate about what you do. This will drive you to excellence.
  4. Be committed. There are times when the passion wanes. Even so, your responsibility to excellence remains. Show up early, stay late, and work hard.
  5. Apply the personal test. Ask yourself if you could be ministered to with the type of ministry you are offering to others. If not, you are not achieving excellence.
  6. Expose yourself to excellence. Find people who have excelled at what you do and study them! You should not mimic others, but you will enrich your ministry by observing excellence.
  7. Remember you are a steward of God’s property—your time, talent, treasure. “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” (Colossians 3:23).

Never fall into the rut of assuming you are great simply because you are better than some. If we do not pursue excellence, what is our alternative? Excellence is the minimum requirement.


Contributed by Rodney Shaw – Pastor of New Life Church in Austin, TX

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